Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing.


Violent video games teach kids to kill using the same mechanisms of classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social learning employed to train soldiers. The major psychological differentiator between a soldier’s training and a video game player’s training is that soldiers are taught to kill while simultaneously being taught strict discipline. This safeguard operates as a secondary safety catch that prevents soldiers from unlawful or unauthorized killing.

.. I showed them Bureau of Justice Statistics’ data demonstrating that our returning veterans from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War were less likely to be incarcerated than nonveterans of the same age and sex.

.. Over the course of several millennia, combat has forced the military to evolve mechanisms to enable killing. Any nation that does not stay abreast of this evolution will be defeated and conquered.

.. The military does not dress young troops in uniforms, shave their heads, and make them march just for fun. It does these things because if the young warriors cannot submit their will to authority in inconsequential matters such as the way they dress and how they wear their hair, then we cannot trust these soldiers to submit their will in the more important matters, such as employing deadly force only when a situation calls for it, no matter how intense the provocation.

.. The idea of shooting in the wrong direction or at the wrong time is beyond the comprehension of trained warriors. It is the discipline by which the warrior lives. In addition to the midbrain safety catch, this is the secondary safeguard—and it is what is lacking in the violent media training our children receive every time they pick up the video game controller.

.. If we convince our young children that violence is good and necessary, but we do not teach them discipline, we create a generation of killers—a generation of homegrown sociopaths.

.. when children between two and six years of age see someone on television getting shot, stabbed, brutalized, degraded, or murdered, those images are real to them—as real as anything else in their young lives.

.. In The Republic, Plato wrote:

And the beginning, as you know, is always the most important part, especially in dealing with anything young and tender. That is the time when the character is being molded and easily takes any impress one may wish to stamp on it.

. . . Then shall we simply allow our children to listen to any stories that anyone happens to make up, and so receive into their minds ideas often the very opposite of those we shall think they ought to have when they are grown up?

No, certainly not.

.. Here’s another example, this time stemming from one of the most successful video game franchises in history: Grand Theft Auto. In these games you play a criminal. You cannot be a “good guy,” since the premise is criminal behavior.

.. If the cops, rival gangs, or your own stunts injure you as a part of your criminal simulation, your “health” rating will start to suffer. To improve your health score (ironically), you buy sex from a prostitute. Afterward, you can murder the woman you just had sex with to get your money back. Screaming obscenities, in state-of-the-art graphic detail, you can beat to death the woman you just had sex with to save a few bucks. Grand Theft Auto V was released in September 2013 and immediately broke six world records for video game sales,3 making more money than the entire global music industry.

.. Think of violent video games as a boot camp for kids—their own basic training. As they sit before the console, hour after hour, enabled by ever-advancing technology to remain plugged in to digital media, they learn that violence is good and violence is necessary. They see it, they experience it— and they believe it. If it troubles you that our young soldiers have to go through a process of conditioning to learn to kill, it should be infinitely more troubling that we are doing the same thing indiscriminately to our children without the safeguards of discipline.